February 19, 2010

Program bridges gaps in care for fragile babies

Featured Image

Georgeanna Goldthorpe, M.S.N., R.N., of the Bridge to the Future program, right, visits with Candy Sefansic and Althea, one of Stafansic’s newborn triplets. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

Program bridges gaps in care for fragile babies

Anyone could end up needing special assistance after the birth of a medically fragile infant — even an experienced pediatric nurse.

Candy Stefansic, clinic manager for Hematology/Oncology at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, is discovering this after the birth of her triplets on Feb. 1.

“I am taking home three babies who are premature and I have a child under age 2 at home,” Stefansic says, admitting to feeling greatly overwhelmed. “You can have all the help in the world and wonder, 'Can I do it?'”

Stefansic is one of the hundreds of new mothers each year who benefit from a unique program designed to support medically fragile newborn babies and their mothers. The award-winning Nurses for Newborns Foundation (NFNF) program is called Bridge to the Future.

The program serves seven counties in Middle Tennessee, and it stays busy.

Of the 4,600 home visits provided by NFNF last year, more than half were Bridge to the Future visits. The program is well known to providers in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in hospitals like the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. Between five and 20 babies are referred to the program every month by Vanderbilt alone. Still, most new parents have never heard of it. Stefansic was glad to learn it was there for her.

“My babies are doing so well, but it makes me feel better that someone will come and check on me. And my husband could really use this too. He is not a medical person and would benefit from some sort of assistance rather than me telling him what to do,” said Stefansic.

Last fall, the Bridge to the Future Program was recognized by The Center for Nonprofit Management (CNM) and won the grand Frist Foundation Award of Achievement in the “Making a Difference” category at CNM's annual recognition program. The prize was a $20,000 donation.

“That came at a very needed time,” said Vicki Beaver, M.S.N., R.N., executive director of the Tennessee chapter of NFNF. “It was good timing in part because demand is up and because funding has been particularly tight in this economy. But I think the big thing is it was reaffirming for our staff to hear that what they do is important for the community.”

And it is important in Tennessee, which ranks 45th in the nation in terms of infant mortality.

The goal of Bridge to the Future, and other NFNF programs, is to reduce infant mortality, the potential for abuse and neglect, unnecessary emergency room visits and further medical complications for babies.

The program's Web site says a “medically fragile” infant can include babies born prematurely, at low birth weight, diagnosed with Down Syndrome or other genetic disorders, or who have been exposed to drugs and/or alcohol prior to birth.

Georgeanna Goldthorpe, M.S.N., R.N., visited with Stefansic at the Stahlman NICU Nursery at Vanderbilt just three days after the triplets were born. Goldthorpe takes referrals from Vanderbilt to enroll mothers and their babies in the program.

She says she must continually remind mothers that they should not be expected to “naturally” know what to do with a medically fragile baby, even in cases like Stefansic's, when the mother is an experienced health care provider.

“Don't forget you just had major abdominal surgery with the Caesarian section delivery,” Goldthorpe reminded Stefansic. “There are going to be a lot of things that will be very difficult for you to do as you recover from your own surgery.”

As she does with all the new parents she works with, Goldthorpe explained to Stefansic that a nurse would be assigned specifically to her and her babies. Visits will be scheduled every week, and then gradually will reduce in frequency until the babies are up to 2 years old. Bridge to the Future nurses are accessible by phone even on weekends and evenings.

“It will make a world of difference,” Stefansic said.